In 1366 the northern skies were as they had always been. Lying on your back in the English countryside would find you admiring Andromeda, the Plough and Orion. The blood-red star of Betelgeuse shone like a ruby in the top left of the astrological figure. It was a huge star, almost six hundred and fifty light years distant. Its diameter is a thousand times that of our own sun. It is so large that if it sat at the centre of our solar system, the orbit of the earth, indeed all of the inner planets would be within its diameter. It is truly gigantic and, one day it will explode.
If you had been lying in a field admiring Orion in 1366 you would have had no idea the massive star was collapsing inward. It was going supernova in that moment.
It collapsed in a matter of microseconds then exploded, creating many of the minerals which are of such importance to us today in our own world, gold, uranium and all of the heavy elements plus many essential for life like carbon. It also produced the most enormous pulse of gamma rays, gravitational waves and other electromagnetic radiation.
Those rays and that radiation headed towards Earth at the speed of light, but would not be seen here until 2016, almost six hundred and fifty years later.
The well known Crab Nebula, again in the constellation of Orion, is also the result of a supernova. It lies 6,300 light years distant and its explosion took place in 5276BC but was not seen until 1024AD. It was so bright it was seen in broad daylight for twenty-three days. Betelgeuse is only a tenth of the distance from Earth.
When the explosion was finally observed in 2016, it lit up the sky like a second sun for almost twenty minutes then faded rapidly, but was still too bright to look at directly. The astronomers, like Doctor Geoffrey Arnold PhD, who happened to see the event were staggered by its brilliance and had to look away. Electronic telescopes which captured the moment were ruined. If anyone had been looking at Betelgeuse through binoculars or a small telescope when it exploded, they would have been permanently blinded.
Geoff Arnold telephoned many of his colleagues during the evening. This was an event of, well, astronomic proportions! Very quickly radio telescopes and other equipment were turned upon the fading supernova, gaining and recording enormous volumes of data for study at a later time. Astronomers all over the world had been desperate to observe a supernova close up. Six hundred and fifty light years was really close so a wonderful opportunity for them to experience.
Geoff was worried about the gamma and other electromagnet radiation which might be bombarding the earth. The following morning he set off early to catch his train to Waterloo and get to the Royal Institution for a meeting with his boss, Dr. Justin Mayweather and a number of other top astronomers and physicists he’d asked to attend.
As he boarded the 7.25am train to Waterloo he looked at the sky. Orion was setting, the sun was up yet the supernova was still clearly visible in the daylight sky, an extremely bright star, tiny, but many times more brilliant than the full moon. The previous night it was bright enough to read by after the sun set. He watched it as he boarded the train from Guildford station.
The Waterloo express pulled away from the platform en route to the capital. No sooner had it departed than our own sun, Sol, ejected one of the most extraordinary solar flares. Eight minutes later the gamma rays and other electromagnetic radiation from the flare would impact with the radiation from Betelgeuse.
In the instant when those waves collided, 8.15am Greenwich Mean Time, every animal and person in the world underwent the most unexpected and catastrophic change which would later be called mindslip. Doctor Geoff Arnold and others tell of the trauma that radiation caused and how it affected their own lives.
Geoff Arnold is not a superhero any more than the other seven billion people on Earth. Mindslip charts his path through the disaster which followed. That he had some fringe significance in understanding the event and helping to resolve the chaos is immaterial.
Just as Geoff boarded his train, Allan Colclough, a very ordinary, thirty year-old pharmaceutical salesman, started his car, reversed out of his driveway in Bristol and headed towards Bath where he had his first client of the day. While en route, Mindslip changed his life forever.